Out of the Silos: Making the case for Open Access

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McMaster graduate student, Hector Orozco explains why the research community should embrace Open Access, a global movement to make scholarly publications and data publicly available.

McMaster graduate student, Hector Orozco explains why he's encouraging researchers to embrace Open Access, a global movement to make scholarly publications and data publicly available.

Picture this: you’re finishing up your first first-author paper. You find a relevant paper on Google Scholar and, judging from the title, it’ll help you wrap up the discussion section. You click on it… and you hit a paywall.

If you think this was an isolated event, think again. Grad students and researchers all around the world hit paywalls every day.

Publicly funded research should be publicly available. Government institutions, such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), distribute tax-payers’ money to the scientific community. With it, principal investigators further our knowledge through basic and applied research. We then publish our findings in a scientific journal that nicely tucks our hard work behind a paywall. The Open Access movement aims to get around this by promoting free and immediate online access to scientific & scholarly articles with full reuse rights.

My name is Hector Orozco. I’m in the last year of my master’s degree in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behavior at Mac. I was recently awarded the McMaster University Library Travel Scholarship to attend OpenCon—the international conference that brings together the world’s leaders in Open Access. SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), OpenCon’s organizer, aims to empower the next generation of Open Access, Open Data, and Open Education advocates.

OpenCon focused on several aspects of Open Access and included a “Do-A-Thon”, a day dedicated to advocacy and taking concrete steps toward Open Access.

It was an eye-opening experience for me and helped me realize how lucky we are to be in an institution that has the means to pay for the journal subscriptions we need in order to keep doing such innovative research. I also hadn’t realized how important small, grassroots actions are – making your work openly available can be as easy as self-archiving one of the versions of your manuscript in your institution’s repository.

You may be asking, “Why should I care about this?”

Making your work openly available has clear benefits for both society and for you as a researcher. Look at the recent opening of all data in the Montreal Neurological Institute. This initiative aims to digitally share data and findings in real time so we can further science and our understanding of neurological diseases.

Open Access will translate into better visibility, greater public engagement, and higher impact of scholarship, as well as less duplication. It’s also being increasingly embraced by funding agencies around the world including Canada’s Tri-Agencies, who recently introduced a requirement that all Tri-Agency funded research be made public within 12 months of publication.

As researchers, there are multiple ways you can make your work open. One of them is self-archiving in your institution's repository (without the need to publish in Open Access journals). McMaster’s repository is MacSphere; and, if you want to archive your work there, McMaster Library staff will be happy to help. The Library has also developed a number of resources to help researchers navigate the world of Open Access.

McMaster’s implementation of openness is at an early stage, but there are grassroots initiatives already underway. For example: Haley Kragness, Michael Galang and I – all McMaster OpenCon alumni – were awarded a Student Proposal for Intellectual Community & Engaged Scholarship (SPICES) grant this year to fund our OpenMac project. Our first step is to distribute a survey to understand what people think about the Open Access movement so we can develop events that are tailored specifically to Mac. We will then put together workshops and a “self-archive-a-thon” to encourage faculty and grad students to deposit a copy of their work in MacSphere.

While Open Access has clear benefits, it is not a panacea. Though the movement gives us the freedom to explore different publishing schemes, some of these are not yet optimal. For instance, several journals charge scientists “Article Processing Charges”. Some hybrid models also practice “double dipping”, where traditionally “closed” scientific magazines will make an article open (for a very steep price) and still have universities pay yearly subscriptions to access the whole journal in which the (open) article is published. The best way to publish (or even self-archive) is to always consult with your supervisor and with the Library.

I was first introduced to Open Access in 2015 while I was doing research at McGill University. From the very beginning, it made sense to me: publicly funded research should be publicly available.

The open movement presents a big opportunity for academics to engage with the general public and democratize their knowledge. As Eunice Mercado-Lara, the Science and Technology Policy Deputy Director in Mexico’s CONACYT, states, “open science is a new and different paradigm of doing science: science shouldn’t be in silos, science should be discussed by anyone anywhere; of course, you need experts guiding the discussion, but at the end of the day every single actor [person] should be involved.”

 *OpenCon 2017 conference materials can be found, freely available, online.